Researchers found that aerobic exercise increases the neuron reserves in the hippocampus area of the brain, responsible for learning.
And importantly, exercise such as running boosted these reserves far more than high intesity training (HIT) or resistance training.
The study, published in the Journal of Physiology: London, was carried out by Department of Psychology and the Department of Biology of Physical Activity at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.
Lead researcher Professor Heikki Kainulainen said: "Aerobic exercise, such as running, has positive effects on brain structure and function, for example, the generation of neurons in the hippocampus, a brain structure important in learning.
"Aerobic exercise, such as running, has positive effects on brain structure and function" Prof Heikki Kainulainen
"Resistance training had no such effect. Also the effects of HIT were minor. To conclude, only sustained aerobic exercise improved hippocampal neurogenesis in adult animals.
"It may be possible to increase the neuron reserve of the hippocampus and thus improve preconditions for learning by promoting neurogenesis via sustained aerobic exercise such as running."
The rats used had a genetically high response to aerobic training (HRT) and those with a low response to aerobic training (LRT).
The exercise training period was six to eight weeks running, HIT or resistance training during which control animals of the same rat strain remained in sedentary conditions in the home cage.
Prof Kainulainen added: "The result is important because, according to previous research, the new hippocampal neurons produced as a result of neurogenesis are needed among other things for learning temporally and spatially complex tasks.
"It is possible that by promoting neurogenesis via sustained aerobic exercise, the neuron reserve of the hippocampus can be increased and thus also the preconditions for learning improved also in humans."
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